On This Foundation

Written by Lynn Austin
Review by G. J. Berger

Nehemiah is a mere cup bearer (food taster) to the King of Persia in a palace one thousand miles from Jerusalem. The King allows Nehemiah to leave and supports his mission to rebuild Jerusalem’s broken walls. Closely based on the Old Testament’s Book of Nehemiah, Austin gives today’s readers a layered story of hardship, treachery, and faith-driven purpose.

On Nehemiah’s arrival, Jerusalem’s walls, main temples, and many of its buildings lie in ruins, its gates smashed and burned. Neighboring rulers and nighttime thugs harass and oppress the nearly defenseless Jewish people who have dared to return to their homeland. A two-year drought adds to the challenge of daily survival. Jealous neighboring tribal leaders use spies, assassins and rumor-mongers to undermine Nehemiah’s efforts and special way with his people.

Daily life details and solid dialogue draw the reader into feeling for the main characters. Teenaged Nava, given to a wealthy landowner as a servant for six years to repay her father’s debts, is a feisty delight. Chana, one of the headstrong women who help rebuild a section of the great wall, finds strength in tasks women had previously not dared to touch. Nehemiah becomes heroic. The multiple, sometimes twisty and surprising plots are easy to read and follow. Austin layers in the deeply-held religious beliefs of key characters, but never in a preachy way. The nicely integrated passages from Scripture are both appropriate and informative.

Though this is the last of Austin’s Restoration Chronicles, several not-quite-finished secondary story lines and lives just beginning will leave some readers wanting more.